speaking….and other ways to embarrass a middle schooler

We are hot wing loving people, and we drove a good 20 miles this day to get them. We said, “Let’s celebrate Labor Day! And the end of a great summer! Tonight….we feast!” We didn’t say the feast part out loud, but I sure thought it.

With one week of middle school under his belt, Jake plopped down next to me at the restaurant table. Instead of getting to talk to my older kid’s face, however, I was granted access only to the back of his head. We were surrounded by no fewer than 30 televisions covering every possible surface in the new chain restaurant. I looked nervously at the giant projection screen hanging precariously above my head. Baseball, football, college football, high school football, what looked like Dr. Oz, and even America’s Funniest Home Videos blurred soundlessly together while music played in the background.

I didn’t harp on the boys about watching the TVs, there were just too many to ignore. I couldn’t help but watch either, just like everybody else in the crowded dining room. When you have that many people together staring at TVs from every possible angle – weird eye contact will inevitably happen. I was sure the guy with the ZZ Top Beard was looking at me because he assumed I was staring at his beard, which I was for a minute. But really, he was probably just watching whatever game was above our table, or at the very least, waiting for the screen to fall on me before my wings arrived.

A girl across the restaurant with a 60’s beehive also seemed to be looking at us. Either that or she was watching the same thing as ZZ, which seemed highly unlikely. No, she was definitely looking at me, and my utter lack of a beehive hairdo, for which I was now very self-conscious.

“Focus, people, focus.” John used his natural leadership skills to bring us all back to the task at hand – ordering wings. The menu was six pages long with an insert. There was a chart, and a graphic of a giant bottle of hot sauce with what looked to be dozens of different wing ordering variables.  There was the sauce side and the dry rub side. There was sweet on one end of the heat spectrum, a picture of flames on the other. We settled on a big platter of very exotic “medium.”

Exhausted from the hardest thinking I’d done all day, I settled back, and my ears perked up. I knew this song. I loved this song. “It’s Dead or Alive!” I yelped, “I don’t feel right saying the name of the song, because it’s not entirely appropriate… but it’s Dead or Alive…the band!” I girly clapped for unnecessary emphasis.

They all nodded.

“Eeeeee.”

“What?”

“Depeche Mode! It’s Depeche Mode.” I girly clapped again, because now it was a terrible habit.

The TVs may have been silent zombie-creating light boxes, but the stereo system was loud and clear, and apparently set to “80’s Stun.”

John took the little one to the restroom as I tried to explain to Jake the significance of Pat Benetar; “60% of her awesomeness must have been her haircut,” I said earnestly. I waved my hands around my head trying to pantomime the swoopiness of her feathering. He nodded again, and I took to my phone to find a picture.

When the guys returned to the table, I was flipping though my results from Googling “Pat Benatar Hair” images. I’ve Googled some stupid things, many of them twice, but this search was a first.

Jake looked at the photos, and then back to the bank of TVs, immediately guffawing at AFHV (when you are a fiercely loyal fan of crotch kicking, wedding-dance-gone-wrong, annoyed animal videos, you may also unapologetically call America’s Funniest Home Videos, AFHV), “Look at that cat. How does it do that?” he said, mystified. I looked around to find the screen with the crazy cat, and sucked in my breath when I spotted something awesome. I nudged Jake. “The woman directly behind you, has Pat Benatar’s exact haircut,” I whispered. He slyly looked over his shoulder, then looked to me, nodding in polite acknowledgement.

Another song came on that I recognized. I’d listened to it on my boombox in my room as a kid. “Catch Me I’m Falling.”  Who sang this? Who. Sang. This? I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable in my not knowing.

My darling husband has many gifts, one of my favorites being his awe inspiring ability to immediately recognize and name the title and artist of songs; and not just any dumb ol’ songs, but 1980’s adult contemporary classics. The more obscure, the better. His childhood weekends were spent with Casey Kasem and the American Top 40. It’s obviously one of the top 3 reasons why I agreed to marry him.

“I can’t remember who sang this,” he admitted. Now he looked uncomfortable too.

“Stacey Q?” I guessed. Wait, she couldn’t have possibly had another song other than “Two of Hearts.” Back in the day, my friend Jenni and I preferred to call it, “Two Pop Tarts.” Hilarious.

John, sounding like Sherlock Homes, began his process of deduction, “This song was out at the same time as a Taylor Dayne song.”

“Is it Taylor Dayne?”

He looked at me like I was asking if he was Taylor Dayne.

“Um, no.”

“Ok, so most definitely not Taylor Dayne, and not Jody Watley…right?” I was grasping now.

The wings were here and my hands were saucy, but it was worth the risk.

“I’m so sorry everybody, I hate to do this, but I have to do this.” I took my phone out again and quickly found what I was looking for. “Pretty Poison? What? I’ve never heard of them.”

“Pretty Poison,” John said nodding solemnly, “Yup, that’s it. Man, I knew that.”

Jake looked at me expectantly, perhaps waiting to hear what the singer’s hair looked like, or where I was when I first heard that song, or maybe how Pretty Poison was the best band in the history of music and a major influence on artists he listens to, like B.o.B and One Republic.

I had nothing, so he quickly turned away in his seat, going back to his wings and AFHV.

Oh no. Was he….embarrassed? Annoyed? Both? It didn’t matter that nobody in this place, whether they had a Pat Benatar haircut or a ZZ Top beard, was paying attention to us. Well, beehive girl was, but I knew that nobody need be present for a tween to be embarrassed. He was a sweet kid, and was doing his best to humor me as I waxed poetic about the old timey music I grew up with. I scrapped my plans to use photos of my freshman dorm to illustrate the lesson One Hit Wonders: 90’s edition.

Alas, he is in middle school, and I now hold more potential for annoyance and embarrassment than I did just a week ago – a milestone for us both. I would let him eat his wings and watch his falling down videos in peace. Just wait ’til the day though, he’s eating medium wings with his kids and he gets excited for the Black Eyed Peas on the classic hits station, and he really wants them to appreciate how the lady at the next table looks exactly like Lady Gaga.

VISUAL AIDES

*The photo at the top is not the most flattering of me by any means, but somehow, I’m delighted by how delighted I look to be there.

*The middle photo is my freshman dorm room that I shared with my roommate Heidi. We actually SLEPT in there, in the midst of the chaos.Please note the EMF poster.

*The bottom photo is my far more refined sophomore room that I shared with Liane. No EMF poster, but I do see a poster for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and L.A. Style, and that Johnny Depp movie they screened on campus, Benny & Joon. There is a rack of cassettes and cassingles AND a rack of CDs. Everything else, I would put up again today, Pearl Jam, The Cure, Depeche Mode, INXS, and the 34,000 photos I ripped out of magazines like Spin.

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will there be bears?

“Will there be bears?” I asked.

John shook his head and explained that they would be spending their boys’ night a few minutes from our old bearless suburb across the Bay, and probably 100 yards from the main road on which you can find a CVS and Round Table Pizza.

“Do you have everything?”

“Yes.”

“OK, well….be careful out there.”

“You be careful, and have fun. Don’t worry about trying to do too much, you can sleep for hours if you want to.”

John had provided the opportunity to go camping with them, and I was admittedly less than pleased. I think you could describe the look on his face as half confused, a quarter surprised, and a quarter not-at-all surprised as I explained that I was unhappy with the invitation because now I was put in the position of having to feel bad about saying no, and I would rather just not even be asked in the first place.  It made sense at the time.

My friend Margie has a cheeky little napkin hanging on the bulletin board in her kitchen that says, “I love not camping.” I point at it when we visit, and quote it often, and I quoted it again when he asked.

Oh how I want to want to camp. It seems to be a popular thing for people to do and the snacks would be right up my alley…I hear there’s often chocolate and marshmallows AND bacon.

But after realizing the weekend’s arrangements were likely best for everybody, I was excused from going, and from the jobs of monitoring stick usage, dirt abatement and maintaining a 40-foot perimeter around the campfire. The guys loaded up their tent and stove and other supplies I did not recognize. John pointed out the ingredients they left me on the counter for my own “in the house” s’mores, and headed off into the beautiful sunshiny weekend for a night in the wilderness.

We waved at each other enthusiastically and I dashed up the stairs, ready to tackle my list. Of course I had a list; I wanted to use this time wisely.

I had just under 24 hours and a few simple things to do:

  • Clean out and organize all rooms, closets, bookshelves, and areas that could possibly contain LEGO’s and/or baseballs
  • Fully prepare for the start of school, short of packing lunches two weeks in advance
  • Give self manicure and pedicure
  • Catch up on DVR’d shows (that, my friends, is a legitimate to-do)
  • Plan meals for the week, nay, the month
  • Read backlog of magazines
  • Return backlog of emails
  • Think about exercising
  • Finish reading The Help then go see The Help in the theater, and of course…
  • Re-start, finish, and finally fall in love with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I am almost positive that I had NOT written:

  • Make and eat entire box of pasta salad
  • Run out of things to read on the Internet, because you have simply read it all
  • Don’t read any books at all– I mean it, NO books
  • Watch Hoarders, then feel yucky after
  • Watch romantic comedies until your eyes hurt, and feel way worse than you did after watching Hoarders
  • Argue with the cat about her incessantly stealing the drain things out of the sinks
  • Take picture of the cat with the drain things, because even though it’s so annoying, it’s kind of cute
  • Argue with the cat about her trying to remove the vent grate with her tiny little claws at 2:00 am, which unfortunately is shortly after you will finish watching a Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, and not one of her better ones.
  • Paint nails and allow to dry while laying motionless for the length of DVR’d Gossip Girl season finale
  • Rediscover long-dormant and impractical love of French house music
  • Use minimal math skills to evenly space out consumption of the three Hawaiian sweet rolls that are in the kitchen
  • Become overwhelmed at how many areas in house contain LEGO’s and/or baseballs

Though that is most certainly the list I did not write, it is the list I diligently completed while the boys were frivolously frolicking about in the woods.

welcome class of 2024

The sign hanging on the tree was written in big bubbly blue and gold letters, “Welcome Class of 2024.”

Could this be the place? 2024? This must be a picnic for kids much, much, muuuuch older than my 5-year-old. I glanced around the park, hoping to spot another group.

“What about me, mom?” asked the older one pointing at the sign, “when do I graduate?”

“Give me a minute to do the math even though you were born in 2000 and I should know it off the top of my head.…..2018. You’re the class of 2018.”  That couldn’t be right either; I think that’s when my New York Magazine subscription expires.

We’d pulled up to the kindergarten picnic and mixer a few minutes late, which had not been my intention. Unsure of current kindergarten party etiquette, I was shooting for an on-time arrival, but it took 15 minutes to find the 2024 graduate’s shoes; the black shoes, not the blue shoes, because you only get one shot at making a first impression. (For future reference, 15 minutes seems to be exactly “fashionably late” for kindergarten social events, unlike the 20-30 minute late arrival expected at your standard 3rd or 4th grade mixers.)

There were kids all over the play structure, hovering at the food table, and running off into the trees. I greeted a friend and asked where her son was. “He’s over there in the fort, getting tics.”

None of the kids at the mixer though, seemed to be mixing.

Zach would not leave his dad’s or older brother’s side as much as Jake tried to shake him. A lady by the watermelon pointed at her two boys. That soon-to-be kindergartener had suddenly taken a keen interest in watching over his toddler brother, shooing away any other kids who happened by.

A darling little girl skipped past, and I called Zach over.

“Can you say hi, Zach? This is Maddie…she might be in your class.”

“Uuuuggh!  Mooooooom, Where’s Jacob? What’s he doing? I need to go see him.”

“Wait! Say hi to Maddie! Come back, Zach! Woop, there goes Maddie, too. Nice to meet you Maaaaadddddiiiieee!”

Hoping to benefit from the experience of my 2018 graduate’s elementary school years, I knew this was no time to be shy. These other grown ups? The ones trying to calmly manage premature cookie intake and facilitate introductions of kids who would rather squeeze their eyes shut and make fart noises with their mouths, than say “hello?” These are our new classmates. We are going to be chaperoning field trips to the wildlife museum, setting up book fairs, and lamenting homework and eye rolling with these people for years.

I went in with both guns ablazin’, introducing myself to anyone who even glanced in my direction. I think maybe a couple of them were there for some soccer thing, and not in fact to fete the class of 2024, but by golly, I was going to be nice in case I got to see them again at Back to School Night or in the frozen foods section at Safeway.

Fortified by half eaten hot dogs, juicy watermelon and chocolate chip cookies, the little kids finally started to acknowledge each other, playing chase, up and down the slide and around the tree.

Jake would intermittently join in the chase games, and then sit moodily on top of the play structure until finally one of his buddies showed up —  another older brother. The two big guys loped joyfully away to play Frisbee and take advantage of their well developed hand-eye coordination that, unlike their smaller playmates, would allow them to actually catch the Frisbee.

Back on the playground, the little boys outnumbered the little girls  3 to 1, though the girls outstyled the boys something fierce. Dressed to impress, they came ready to mix in bows, sundresses, and sparkly accessories – all of which were now covered in watermelon drippings. Big ups to the girl in the tiara and chocolate mustache.

The gaggle of stick-wielding, sticky faced boys provided a glimpse into the future – Comic-Con 2026, to be exact. The 5-year-old fanboys made their allegiances known through their T-shirts.

“Which kid is yours?”

“Batman.”

“Star Wars.”

When it was my turn, I pointed toward the snack table, “Indiana Jones.”

Soon the unwieldy yelling, chasing and unabashed snacking, gave way to little kids looking for a comfortable place to sit down, or in some unfortunate cases, lay down.

The parents exchanged information on smart phones, plucked dirty picnic blankets from the grass to leave, and then their dirtier, sweaty crumpled children.

The Class of 2024 sign had fallen from its spot on the tree into the dirt.

“What did you think, Zach?,” we asked as he rested his head on his car seat.

“Good. Hey, what’s the name of that kid who’s my new best friend? That kid I was playing with?”

“The one who threw up?”

“No, the other guy. The one with the stick. I like that guy. I’m gonna look for him at school.”

Jake shook his head and stared out the window. He’d looked huge to me today, towering over Zach and his new best friends. I realized at that moment, that this big kid started kindergarten practically yesterday,  just a few precious days before the birth of his brother, and this coming week he would be in the same boat as Zach –one of the younger, shorter, less experienced newbies on campus.

He’s registering for middle school.

6th grade – the kindergarten of teenagers, complete with fanboy T-shirts, sparkly accessories, and awkward introductions, but perhaps with fewer fart noises (fingers crossed!) and more cell phones. Wish us luck.

it’s not you, mtv…it’s me

MTV is 30 now. 

Awww, MTV, Happy Birthday! To celebrate, I think I might try watching the ol’ network; it’s  been a while, and it might be fun to catch up.

I realize just how long it’s been when I can’t find MTV in my channel guide. We have about 900 channels, and I can tell you where to find Hoarders, Mickey Mouse Club House, Barefoot Contessa and Barefoot Contessa in HD.

I scroll through the channel guide at least twice, getting distracted by the fact that the Giants game is still on, and that movie Zodiac is about to start on IFC.

After I finally find it buried between between channels where the letters don’t mean anything to me (what is CSN+H and PLDHD?), I see that tonight’s MTV offering is Jersey Shore. What I know about this show I’ve learned from more sophisticated programming like Saturday Night Live, and The Soup. The format is instantly familiar though, and not entirely different from the first five seasons of Real World that I watched unapologetically back in the day: voice over narratives by the young cast, quick cuts and edits, and a roomful of 20-somethings arguing over whatever someone said that was like… the worst. I squirm; “What are they talking about? Why are they so mad? What’s that girl’s name? Why is she wearing that? Why am I so bored with this?”

Mercifully, a commercial comes on, and I flip to Zodiac. I shouldn’t watch this: it’s going to be scary, but I think it’s kind of a newspaper drama around the San Francisco Chronicle, and hunting for a killer they never capture (spoiler!). Intrigue, and mystery like All the President’s Men — same era, same typewriters. No Robert Redford, but there’s Robert Downey, Jr.! And Jake Gyllenhal! Mark Ruffalo! Chloe Sevigny! And an obviously nuanced and thoughtful performance by Anthony Edwards from Revenge of the NerdsTop Gun and ER.

I should really change the channel back to MTV, and finish what I set out to do tonight: watch MTV.

But I can’t. This movie has my favorite movie thing – exciting research scenes. The characters are pouring through file boxes, and the background music is pulsing, and watching these guys read is downright thrilling. (Helllloooooo, All the President’s Men!)

At the commercial break, instead of using the time to flip back to MTV, I listen to the ads for IFC’s Whisker Wars and look up facts about Zodiac’s director, David Fincher. He lived in the same little Bay Area town we did for a while, and he’s directed some of my favorites; Social Network, The Game, Se7en (could only watch that once), Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Apparently I’m a David Fincher fan, and so I guess I’ll have to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even though I was physically incapable of finishing that book.

So now, I am officially failing miserably at watching MTV. By the time I get back to it, Teen Mom is on, but that makes me a little more uncomfortable than the movie about the Zodiac Killer.

Ok, so I’ll watch this movie, and not MTV; I don’t want to miss any more critical plot points, and MTV won’t miss me. Even though my musical taste wasn’t frozen in time with A-Ha and Tears for Fears, they don’t need me anymore. I’m not their demo, though I was once.

When MTV started on basic cable, I was old enough to be very aware of its significance and also old enough to beg my parents for basic cable. I was, however, young enough for it to be a significantly formative part of my formative years. I knew that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were going to change the world.  I loved everything MTV had to offer: House of Style, Club MTV, Remote Control, Daria, 120 Minutes. John and I watched Beavis & Butthead on study breaks. My friend Liane and I went to sit in the stands at MTV Rock & Jock basketball in LA. At half-time, Tag Team performed their smash hit of which I owned the casingle,  “Whoomp! There it Is.”  Liane went so far as to go on to work for MTV, becoming the envy of us all.

So even though I’ve entered the next stage of life, the VH1 years, It’s not like I think Snookie is the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, I’ll  just leave her chronicles in the very capable hands of a generation who needs a study break.

Bring back Yo! MTV Raps though, and we’ll talk.

**That photo up there? That’s John and I on a study break, watching Beavis & Butthead.

beachy kleen

I am human so I love the beach and the water. It’s soothing to stare at and inspirational for all types – photographers, theologians, painters, poets, and I’m guessing, boat builders. You can get wrapped up envisioning the generations of admirers that have come before you, sitting on these same shores in their old timey clothes, happy to escape the grind of old timey life like covered wagons and washboards and lard buckets. It’s easy to think about God and bigness and eternity. You respect the power of the water, and the majesty of the sunsets and mountains.

But when it comes time to clean off two sandy boys in a rented retreat center bathroom, I think not so nice things about nature and the beach, and that maybe a lard bucket wouldn’t be so bad after all. Sand, as noble and poetic as it is, is exceptionally hard to remove from little legs and bobbing heads of thick hair. There are never enough towels, and there’s not an actual lid on this toilet, so anything that comes in a 4-foot radius of it, is most certainly going to wind up in it. This is not your home shower, so its quirks are still a fun mystery to you…. either one drastically wayward stream of water that shoots all over the room, or the nozzle that you somehow left pointed at the front door. That’s fun because when you turn it on, your child is left naked and shivering and dry, and you are clothed, soaked and fake-swearing. “Ding dang! Darg blummit!” The sibling is of course unattended in the other room, still wearing his goggles, with sand coming out of every crevice. He is more than likely rolling around in the sheets of all of the beds and trying on your watch.

Wet bathing suits hang from every available pole, hanger and hook, dripping, dripping, dripping onto your purse, or creating a slipping hazard for later.

If we were living in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog, the beach would be a breeze. Our little toe headed beach adept sand angels would play an innocent game of tag while giggling, then finish with big hugs and brotherly cuddles. I would of course be wearing a designer tunic while preparing fresh lemonade spritzers in my nautically themed kitchen. We would have outside showers and our personalized towels would hang jauntily from conveniently placed kid-height pegs.  But alas, the beach for most people on planet Earth, is not like that.

I grew up vacationing every summer in our family’s travel trailer, either in Santa Cruz or Southern California, but always by the beach. So the trauma and the drama of the beach shower was very much a part of the summer routine. My older brother and dad would wait patiently in our patio/picnic area complete with astro turf and strung owl party lights, while I would scream dramatically from the trailer’s postage stamp bathroom, “Stop! Stop! My eyes! My eyes! I’m blind! I’m drowning!”  My mother would somehow keep her cool and remind me that if I stopped screaming about my eyes, I would be less likely to swallow so much shower water. There was no pesky sunblock back then that we would have to wash off, but my brand new sunburn would certainly keep things interesting. “My shoulders! My eyes! I’m blind! I’m burning!”

When the screaming was over, I would emerge in my terry cloth outfit, freshly pig tailed, gangly arms crossed, 300 more freckles than I started the day with, and undoubtedly frowning. Scott and dad would maybe pump up the tires on the bike or throw a Frisbee. Mom would bring out hamburgers, and 3 different kinds of pickles, potato chips and Shasta Cola, humming. Nobody would speak of the injustice of the mandatory beach shower.

When John manages this process with our boys, he makes it look so easy – everybody lined up, in and out of the shower, no big deal. I thought of him and the serenity my mother would maintain through my hissy fits as I looked for clean shorts for the kid jumping on the bed, and a pair of socks for the one digging through my purse for gum.

With everybody dressed, relatively dry, and smelling better, we made our way down the hall for lunch, when the little one turned to me, “I am so excited to go right back to the beach the second we finish eating!”

all star tear jerk

I’d been in the room about 42 seconds when the tears started. Why? Why? Why did I have to wear mascara today of all days?

Wedding? No, that was five days ago, and I waited two full minutes ‘til I unapologetically turned on the waterworks. Graduation? Nope. Moving church service? Not this time. Stepping through the gates at Disneyland?  Don’t I wish.

It was the flippin’ ESPYs.

My back was to John who was in the kitchen tossing a perfectly dressed salad with fruit and everything. He’d once again magically created an honest-to-goodness meal out of the random contents of our fridge, and I was standing mesmerized by ESPN’s annual awards show and a year’s worth of highlight reels.

The screen flashed with jaw dropping 3-pointers, bone-crunching hits, gravity defying catches and mind-blowing runs. There was jubilation and celebration and many, many dogpiles.  But, this wasn’t your average recap show. Those are on every day in this house, to the point where it feels like I am watching highlights of the last highlights show.  I have never had to sit down with a box of tissues to get through those.

They really upped the ante here – there was music, slow-mo and the critical close-up shots of their triumphant and/or heartbroken faces. And with that little bit of editing trickery, they seemed to turn these well-paid, famous yet often faceless athletes into extraordinary people with annoyingly extraordinary abilities and certainly compelling stories… and me into a weepy mess.

Just when I thought I’d pulled myself together, they go and show all the athletes that died this year. I recognized Jack Lalane, and that was it. The other grizzled and determined faces on the screen were pictured mostly in black and white or the grainy film of the ‘70s or 1994, like when you watch a re-run of Friends.  But these folks had been outstanding athletes in their heyday, probably even heroes.

Suddenly, things became very clear in my head, and it went something like this: “How inspirational! I get it. I get the true allure of sports and athleticism, and the home team. Why, these are people who are using their God given abilities! It’s important to have drive and discipline and sportsmanship. This is good for the morale of our country! I’m really glad we have Jake in basketball camp…that’s an investment in his future. It’s good for him as a person, and for the nation, really. John’s probably going to have a lot of sermon illustrations after this.”

And then… the show started.

No. No. No. Oh my gosh, yes. I had just cried at the introduction. Of the ESPYs.

The very funny Seth Meyers took the stage and in his opening monologue teased Brian Wilson about his beard and his spandex tuxedo, and I chuckled loudly with a little over compensatory show-offiness, asking some camouflaging questions about the All-Star break, while swooping around futzing with the dinner plates.

The 10-year-old looked at me sideways, “Are you crying?”

“What? Are you serious? Here, have some more salad. How was basketball camp?”

giving the boot to getting the dirt

I hit rock bottom last week on something that nobody should really hit rock bottom with.

It was a Friday night, and as I was about to go to sleep I perused the entertainment headlines like I tend to do, oooohhhh…every night and every morning, every day of the week. There it was… a horrible terrible headline insinuating in a snarky tone, that I might have enjoyed under different circumstances, that my favorite celebrity couple was on the outs, and on the verge of a breakup.

I read the words over and over in disbelief. What was the feeling that was welling up? No…it couldn’t be… what is that? Panic? Sadness? Worry?

The offending “article” was not even from one of my reputable high-end elitest go-to sites like E! Online, TMZ, or US Weekly. I died a little bit of embarrassment every time I clicked on one of 30 or so related headlines, posted on sites like celebritypoppycock.com and youretoooldtobereadingthis.com, and dontyouhaveanythingbettertodo.net. I scrolled through, thumbs flying and eyes scanning back and forth across my tiny screen like I was (best show ever) Alias’ Sidney Bristow trying to memorize and decipher pages of code before being discovered in the secret offices above the party she had infiltrated in another fantastic disguise while her partner Dixon pretends to be a bartender or a DJ downstairs… but I digress.

Each story cited the last terrible story as a legitimate source. I should have shrugged, turned off my phone and read something more worthwhile, which would have been absolutely anything else in the house. But no. I read every last gossipy word, then I lay there in the dark, sad. Sad for the couple*. Sad for myself. “Well,” I thought as I lay pouting, “there goes my weekend.” There. Goes. My. Weekend. That’s when I realized, I might have a problem.

Celebrity gossip was changing the trajectory of my day.

“Tomorrow…,” I thought. “Tomorrow, I will read those something elses, and I will regain the perspective of an adult with a thoughtful and well informed world view.”

And so I tried it. I pulled out a stack of magazines from our coffee table and picked the most serious looking back issue of Time I could find…Joel Stein’s Awesome Column wasn’t even in it. And I read it cover to cover, the entire time thinking, “I’m back to being a serious adult. I’m very actively not thinking about celebrity gossip. Who cares about that drivel? Look at me reading about the 2% economy, unemployment, our failing education system, troubles in the Middle East, stalled American innovation, rising airline prices, ugly Washington politics, uglier cancer, the Miami Heat, and rhino poaching. This is fun!”

I thought I was sad when I was reading celebrity gossip…but grown up news, consumed in large intentional doses, is much worse, thus answering my long lingering question, “why did I ever start reading celebrity gossip in the first place?”

Not wanting to turn to anemic summer TV, I needed something else as a distraction. iPad Boggle. I could dedicate my pursuit of intelligent input to playing this delightfully whimsical spelling puzzle game! I would be exercising my brain, which is the exact opposite of celebrity gossip. Then I remembered my iPad Boggle thing from a few months ago when I first got the app. I’d ended up on the couch nearly getting carpal tunnel syndrome from shaking the iPad to “toss” the letters into the wee hours of the night, my fingers flying (Sidney Bristow style again, I like to think) only to end up making the same stupid 1 pt. words just about every round: eon, eons, tones, tone, tons, ton, ones, one. What really killed it was John yelling from the other room, “I can hear you Boggling from here!”

So I guess I can’t avoid them any more; I’ll go back to books. Our house and offices are strewn with (mostly) very good books on faith and theology, in varying stages of being read, or studied, or annotated. But an occupational hazard is that those can sometimes feel workish when you’re looking for a summer read. John, while out of town, sent me books from my wish list like one would send flowers: Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and my own copy of Stephen King’s On Writing (brilliant!). John sends flowers too, but books keep better.  And now, thanks to my friend Margie, I also have The Help sitting right there. No matter what room I go to, it’s there, eerily calling out…. “Read me! Hurry, before the movie comes out. Everybody else has…they are going to take your girl card if you don’t.”

Books are longer, and bigger, and heavier, and they don’t tell me what was happening 27 minutes ago, but they will certainly be a worthwhile anecdote to fretting over the economy, or the celebrities who I don’t know, and who don’t know me, and who I’m almost certain aren’t lying awake wondering what I’ll be up to tomorrow.  

*I will not name the celebrity couple because I do not want this post coming up when some poor sap like me catches word of the hopefully not true rumor, and frantically Googles additional stories. Also, you’re better than that.

working girl

It’s fun to entertain the notion that I was born to relax or talk about TV because I excel at those things, but I think I’ve always known I was supposed to grow up and get to work. When I was digging through my old stuff at my parents’ house, I found this sign:

Colleen’s Fall Fashion Show

Thursday August 30, 1984

There will be 12 fashions

Tickets available in Colleen’s bedroom

25¢a ticket

I know I’m the one who wrote it, but I love it. I like to picture freckled little 10-year-old Colleen earnestly creating 12 fashions, and making this sign, and then going ahead and charging mom and dad a quarter….each (sorry, no friends and family discount). Think back to your little kid self, and the stuff you did. You were figuring it out, shaping yourself for what was to come. There we were, the kiddo versions of us, trying out all kinds of careers, just by playing. Sure, you may not have played “analyst” or “consultant” but that’s ok… you might have if you knew those jobs existed and how glamorous they would turn out to be.

I always had a different imaginary job to help support five imaginary babies, Strawberry Shortcake, and an imaginary orange cat. I also had to supplement my imaginary husband’s postal service salary so we could make the payments on the two-story RV with the indoor pool.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Obviously my first choice was Pastor’s Wife (followed by mail carrier’s wife) and Director of Connecting Ministries at a thriving and fantastic Presbyterian Church. But after that, the list was long. It went something like this chronologically:

 Nurse (that lasted until age 6 when I cut my hand and nearly passed out)

 Bank Teller

 Teacher

 Actress

 Hotelier

 Private Detective and partner to Remington Steele

 Professional Tennis Player

Drummer for The Go-Go’s

 Architect (until I found out how much math was involved)

Interior Designer

Apparently… fashion designer and entrepreneur

Novelist

Journalist

Criminologist

 Journalist again

And then…anything but journalist

And yes, in my adulthood I entertained the idea of everything else on the list again except nurse, architect, and tennis player, due only to the fact that I have two bum knees.

Watching my kids now, I can see what they’re trying on for size: professional baseball/basketball/balloon volleyball player, video game tester, archaeologist, movie director, philosopher, chef, competitive eater, and though Jake doesn’t want to hear it, cub reporter a.k.a. journalist (man, that kid asks a lot of tough questions.)

Because we are always growing and moving forward, maybe we try on stuff as adults too, in anticipation of some next step or phase. If that’s the case, I have an idea of where I might be headed, especially if you were to peek into my house this week:

 Come to my Trader Joe’s frozen entrée extravaganza

In my kitchen

There will be 12 entrees

25¢a ticket

don’t call that vintage: your old room

I had been back in my hometown for about 30 seconds when I heard my name being called from across the street. I stepped out of the car into the welcoming warm air to see my parents’, and formerly my, diminutive and ever-busy neighbor waving at me. 

I waved back and she called out again, “Come here, I have something for your dad.” I followed her into the house that was neat and tidy and light and airy. I knew the floor plan well – it matched a third of the houses in the 1950’s tract neighborhood. Another third looked like the house I’d grown up in. She handed me a basket with a card for my dad who was healing up after surgery and on the mend. The basket was full of fruit, and I recognized the same distinctive curly cue handwriting that typically graces the first Christmas card that shows in our mail box each year. She asked about the boys and told me about her grandkids and we said our goodbyes, so I could unload the car and get the hospital to see Dad. Before I could even pull the suitcases from the trunk, one of the next door neighbor “kids” who was probably a good 15 years older than me, rounded the corner on his way to his dad’s house (who’s floorplan matches ours). “Hey there!” he called.

I was fumbling for my old key when I found two very warm cartons of milk sitting on the doorstep. It was Thursday, milk delivery day. My parents have had the same milkman my whole life – Dave…Dave, the milkman. When I mentioned the warm milk to my mom later, she said with a sigh she’d have to reduce the order again. Dad’s drinking soy now.

“You can’t quit the milkman,” I said.

“I know,” she said.

Though I eventually grew to at least enjoy the uniqueness and kitsch factor of having a milkman, I may have at some point asked “why can’t we get our milk at the store like everybody else?” (I know now that kids don’t appreciate things, as much as you beg them too. The hope is that someday they will, I suppose, and then be brave enough to tell you as much.)

My brother was in town too. He’d staked his claim by tossing his stuff in the blue room, which was most recently mine. I took my INXS poster out of there when I left for college, but alas it was truly Scott’s old room. It had only become mine, and blue, when Scott graduated from college and took his Jimmy Buffett and English Beat albums out once and for all. I think he half expects back rent for my time spent there, and maybe an additional fee for the intense shade of baby blue I’d insisted on immediately upon his departure.

That would put me in the smaller green room for this stay; the room where my canopy bed once was, and where the Tooth Fairy could find me, where I’d lip sync to the Go-Go’s, and where the neighbor kids would come to knock when it was time to play. John and I call it the Sleep Chamber; its blackout shade allows the lucky slumberer to blissfully snooze to noon with nary a care. No TV, but that’s ok, the sleep chamber was secretly a boon.

A couple of days later, after much discussion over the weirdness of just the four of us in the house for the first time in 25 years, Scott vacated the blue room to get back to his family. So with mom and dad both home and watching the news (hellooooo, every day of 1986), I started nosing around my old drawers and shelves.

Enough had changed in each room to keep them from looking like shrines to our childhood, but enough had stayed the same to never let memories be too far out of mind. In addition to stacks of photos – childhood friends, puppies, neighbors, vacations, there were a handful of toys, including a miniature Strawberry Shortcake wearing a nightcap and nightgown. I followed my first instinct which was to immediately put her to my nose and take a huge sniff. I really didn’t expect to smell anything, but there it was….the unmistakable smell of Strawberry Shortcake. If you’ve ever smelled her, you know what I’m talking about. It’s strawberry and something else, I don’t know what, but it’s very specific to her. And as I stood there maniacally smelling an old doll, the summer of 1982 came back in one crazy rush, as it tends to do when you’re already feeling nostalgic. Seeing both E.T. and  Annie in the theater and hitting the mother lode on my birthday – I got Strawberry Shortcake, an Annie electric toothbrush, the Annie locket, a huge book about Princess Diana, a chic ribbon choker, stuffed E.T., and E.T stickers, and that’s just the stuff I remember.

The smell was also very specific to one glorious sleepover that summer. I had friends, sisters from the church I attended, who had a pool, matching strawberry pajamas (including a set for me) aaaaand……waterbeds. We splashed in the pool until we were good and sunburnt, then focused on Strawberry Shortcake and her cohorts Apple Dumplin’ and the Purple Pie Man, bringing them to life to befriend Barbie. I was more than likely wearing one of my sparkly appliqué shirts with a cool saying like, “Foxy,” or “Nano Nano” from my favorite TV show, Mork & Mindy.

We do the same kind of archaological dig when we visit John’s old room….we find term papers; Michael Jordan basketballs, posters, and clippings, John’s Student Body President campaign trucker hat, and inevitably his prized possession – his model of the General Lee, from The Dukes of Hazzard. I’ve never seen him smell any of it.

I half-heartedly looked around for the Nano Nano shirt to show the boys, but came up empty handed. Instead, I tucked Strawberry Shortcake into a plastic bag to preserve whatever scent was clinging to her little body.I proudly handed her to John to smell when we were reunited. He says he couldn’t smell anything. Boys.

bloomers

 

 

I’ve logged enough hours with Wills and Kate this last week that they should be able to do me a solid, and issue a royal decree that it is officially summer.   

I followed the media coverage, and sat on my bed dutifully watching my recording and weeping a little bit, like you do at the weddings of all your friends. John happily excused himself to make dinner, leaving me to my celebration, while the boys drifted in and out the room asking questions. They could not believe how long everything was taking and I hadn’t even told them about the first 200 minutes of pomp I had already watched. They asked about the trees in Westminster Abby and I reported as if she had told me herself, that Kate is very outdoorsy and was really going for an English Garden feeling. Then they asked about the carriage and the footmen, and all of the fancy outfits on the clergy, and it was decided that John should probably get that cool tall hat if he’s gonna get anywhere in this ministry business.

When it finished, and with great sadness and blurry eyes, I deleted the wedding from the DVR in order to make room for May sweeps. I then ventured into my yard to reconnect with the people I know in real life and enjoy the glorious weather.

Zach and I even went outside in the morning before school the other day. It’s Teacher Appreciation week, and we were asked to cut flowers from our gardens to contribute to bouquets for the extraordinarily deserving and saintly pre-school teachers. An absolutely lovely idea. Now if we only had a garden. Thank God for the flowering bush outside, that I can take absolutely no credit for. Its vibrant pink flowers bloom generously just in time for teacher appreciation every year. 

John took Zach to the store the first day of the week and they gallantly delivered beautiful and professionally tended red roses. I thought on the second day, I’m going to go to my garden, aka flowering bush-I-do-not-know-the-name-of, to select some lovely home grown blooms. Zach and I stood at the bush with my pruning shears. They are pruning shears one day a year when I stand at that plant during Teacher Appreciation Week. On every other day, they are the office scissors with the orange handles.

Only this week did I discover that we also have roses growing in the yard. In spite of me, we have roses. The bush must be just far enough away from the basketball hoop to have survived this long. Right now there are four blooms – full and dark red and wildly fragrant. If you put your nose to them, you would undoubtedly note the universal smell of great-grandmother. When I found the roses, I insisted the boys come over for a whiff. They looked nervous and asked if something was going to come out of the petals to get them. Perhaps they do share my wariness of the great outdoors after all.

Just a few feet from the valiant rose bush, is the spot where the Venus Flytrap of a horribly mean cactus is disappearing.  We have a guy who’s making that happen. We don’t ask questions; I don’t want to know how he makes it go away, he just does it. He takes care of the problem. I feel like the mob boss wife of cactuses. While there was remorse for the tree that fell in the storms a few months ago, and even the blooms we cut from the bush in the morning, I have no feelings for the cactus. Its needles were like tiny daggers, and we lost many a baseball to it. It didn’t take long for the kids to realize that when it comes to boy vs. cactus, cactus wins. I was certain it was eyeing the children hungrily. Since the thing has started disappearing in sizeable chunks, two baseball carcasses have surfaced.

My brother, the person in this world with who I am most genetically linked, gardens and grills and does things that require regular trips to stores that specialize in fishing poles and tents. He can grow anything, and to counter his stressful schedule, he lovingly tends his suburban crops. It has to be absolutely perfect weather to get me excited about eating in the yard because there are about 40 extra steps to serve an outside meal. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. You have to clean bird poop off the table before you can sit down outside, and I have never had to do that in my dining room. However, when there are twinkle lights up, I find it much easier to lounge at the table, waving bees away from my grilled veggies and listening to the boys happily chatter without the distraction of the stuff that waits inside like homework and dishes.

So hang the twinkle lights, hose down the poop table, smell a rose, kill a cactus and call me Duchess of the Yard, it’s time to be outside again.